mobile photography technology, culture and community
www.dpreview.com

Connect smartphone reviews are written with the needs of photographers in mind. We focus on camera features, performance and image quality.

Sony Xperia Z1 Product Images
1 / 4
Image 1
Image 1
Image 2
Image 3
Image 4

Introduction

The Sony Xperia Z1 was launched in September at the IFA consumers electronics trade show in Berlin and replaces the Xperia Z, which itself was only launched at CES in January as Sony's top-of-the-line smartphone. The new model comes with the same impressive build quality and waterproof body as its predecessor and with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 processor and a 5-inch 1080p screen, the Z1 offers top-end specs all around.

For photo-centric users the really big news is the Z1's camera. The 1/2.3-inch sensor in the Sony's camera module is the same size as you would find in most consumer level compact cameras and therefore larger than the 1/3-inch sensors common in the current crop of smartphones. 

The comparatively large sensor is combined with a high pixel count of 20.7MP, a fast F2.0 lens and a physical shutter button, all of which demonstrate that Sony, like other high-end mobile device manufacturers, has identified camera performance as a key differentiator in the highly competitive smartphone market.

We've put the Sony Xperia Z1 through our rigorous testing regimen. Read on to find out if the impressive specs translate into top-level image quality.

Key Photographic / Video Specifications

  • 20.7 MP 1/2.3 Exmor RS CMOS sensor
  • F2.0 lens
  • 1080p/30 fps video
  • HDR video

Other Specifications

  • Snapdragon 800 quad-core 2.2GHz processor
  • 5-inch 1080p Sony TRILUMINOS display (441ppi)
  • Android 4.2
  • 2GB of RAM
  • Waterproof body (IP55/58)
  • 16 GB internal memory
  • microSD up to 64GB
  • 3,000 mAh battery, non-removable
  • Available in black, white and purple

Our 11-page review

We've considered every aspect of the Sony Xperia Z1 camera, with the photographer in mind. We examined the user interface of the native camera app and its special features. We experimented with the camera's performance when taking stills and video, and had a play with the device's many special feature modes. Click any of the links below for more information of specific functions and continue to our conclusion for a final summary of our findings.

Comments

Total comments: 57
Durandalfr
By Durandalfr (6 months ago)

the sound recorded in those low-light exemples is just horrible. Journalist note should be: However, we still strongly advise you to not shot videos during concerts as long as you don't use a Nokia or at least a XTC-One, as the Sony is still using the cheapest microphones around.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
BangkokPete
By BangkokPete (6 months ago)

The latest update has allows the camera to save the last setting, including manual, Iso, metering etc - so it no longer defaults to auto.

Generally impressed with mine - and it was also updated to Android 4.3 last week.

0 upvotes
Themilanimal
By Themilanimal (8 months ago)

Amazing phone. I got mine a couple of weeks ago and it's exceeded all my expectations

0 upvotes
Sergey Borachev
By Sergey Borachev (8 months ago)

Looks great but I worry about such an angular shape, which must mean higher possibility of the screen getting cracked when dropped due to the concentrated pressure at the corner when it meets the ground.

0 upvotes
chj
By chj (8 months ago)

All the phone manufacturers keep ignoring the critical element, SHUTTER SPEED. The main reason so many phone photos come out badly is because they're shot at 1/8 to 1/20 shutter speed. It doesn't matter if you're shooting with a damn D800 at that shutter speed, anything moving is a total blur.

0 upvotes
chj
By chj (8 months ago)

Although some of the comments sound like you may be able to choose ISO on this phone, which should enable you to keep shutter speed.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (8 months ago)

you can select the ISO and this way of course you get a faster shutter speed. However, you have no idea what the current shutter speed is going to be which obviously makes things a little difficult. This has not got anything to do with manufacturers but with the Google camera API (at least that's what I am told, I am not a developer myself).

2 upvotes
Joseph Mama
By Joseph Mama (8 months ago)

I guess it is a small improvement, but 1/2.3 vs 1/3 isn't THAT big of a gain. It also has no optical zoom and more importantly no image stabilization.

On phones, using the Shutter key is a LOSER. It pretty much guarantees a lousy picture. Phones are just too flimsy and light. Instead you hold it steady and tap the screen. The slight delay while it focuses on that point gives it time to dampen out the vibration from tapping.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (8 months ago)

Totally disagree on your shutter comment. One every phone with a shutter that I have used (HTC One, bunch of Nokias, Z1) the risk of camera shake is reduced, plus you actually get a "half-press" which for obvious reasons is not available on a virtual shutter button.

5 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (8 months ago)

I tend to agree with Joseph to a degree. The ergonomics of a phone combined with a physical shutter is less stable than using an on screen shutter button. Obviously there is benefits of using a physical shutter button if it supports the half press to focus, but having to press the shutter button on a mobile handset does introduce vibrations. I think it has something to do with having to squeeze the handset to depress the shutter on top, whereas with on screen shutter, the natural holding position is to brace and stabilize the phone, and the force required to push an on screen shutter button is alot less.

I would not use such strong words like "LOSER" though, as both the on screen shutter and physical shutter methods of capturing images are useful.

0 upvotes
vv50
By vv50 (8 months ago)

if you're holding it in the traditional position, then your hands are optimized for the two-hand grip and the shutter button to minimize shake . however, if you try to shoot a stationary object in other angles (prone on the floor and phone at 45-90 degrees, or phone held with one hand arm fully extended, or phone in portrait mode, etc.) and are willing to accept the focus lag, then you're better off with the screen shutter.

1 upvote
MistyFog
By MistyFog (8 months ago)

@bigs
It depends on the sensitivity of the button, if it is the soft type and does not require a lot of pressure then it is actually superior compared to on-screen shutter. The physical shutter is certainly ergonomically more natural... think about it, why have all cameras traditionally place their shutters at exactly that location, and not near the screen where the thumb position would be?

The 808's physical shutter tends to be a bit tough, the half-press is easy enough, but you may need to press down harder for full-press, which results in some camera movement. The 920 and 1020 shutters are much softer, definitely easier to press compared to the 808.

0 upvotes
chj
By chj (8 months ago)

I guess it depends on the phone, but on the iphone, I think tapping the screen causes less shake than using the volume button

0 upvotes
Raptor142
By Raptor142 (4 months ago)

Perhaps a little late ....
I have a Sony Ericsson Arc S with a shutter button that is fairly stiff, but have been able to get some fairly good shots once I recognised the limitation and worked with it.
....on the issue of half press .... Samsung have addressed it quite well with their "press-and-hold" to focus feature - once focused, release to take the shot.
...I still prefer the dedicated Shutter button though.

0 upvotes
srados
By srados (8 months ago)

I have not own a single Sony phone that did lasted more than a year without breaking a keyboard or some other feature (2 telephones) .When I purchased a Sony Walkman 13 years ago, it worked 2 days and that is how see Sony electronics...Use it and trash it shortly after.Sony TV's are is still ok...Lumia image samples looks great.Iso 400.

http://tinyurl.com/pfhlls5

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (8 months ago)

I think you would revert that statement if you had actually had held a Z1 in your hand. It is extremely well made. I've handled a lot of smartphones over the past couple of years or so and I would say the Z1 is the most solid one I have come across so far. Fully agree that Sony has made some cheap looking and feeling stuff over the years (hello, entry-level alpha-DSLRs), but the Z1 is all the opposite. Plus it does not have a keyboard that could possibly break :-)

2 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (8 months ago)

I think we have a Pro Nokia troll posting here.

1 upvote
JapanAntoine
By JapanAntoine (8 months ago)

anybody should prefer automatic setting shooting on a smartphone... if you want to play with the settings, you should use a serious compact or an ILC.

0 upvotes
kriztian
By kriztian (8 months ago)

I no longer trust Dpreview when it comes to mobile camera Reviews. Real photographer is praising the Lumia 1020 when Dpreview seeems to do everything to trash it. The only thing they accomplish in my book is trashing thier own credability.

2 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (8 months ago)

Strange I see the opposite. They seem to be more critical on certain issues with the Z1 than with the 1020.

0 upvotes
JapanAntoine
By JapanAntoine (8 months ago)

you should re-read the article, kriztian...

0 upvotes
MistyFog
By MistyFog (8 months ago)

Many other reviews of the Z1 almost universally show that the Z1's camera has far worse image quality compared to 1020, it's not even close. Given the way they hyped it up, especially that dramatic (but flawed) Sony sponsored "independent" study, I'd say the deserve a thorough thrashing. Bigs, it surprises you that the second biggest sensor in the market is placed second on the charts? You are aware that the 1020's sensor is more than twice the size of the Z1's?

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (8 months ago)

Kriztian, please have a look at our Lumia 1020 review, then look at the score on the last page and please tell me how that could possibly be "trashing".

1 upvote
tompabes2
By tompabes2 (8 months ago)

Sony has just released a massive firmware update and from the first samples I've seen on the net it seems that the camera quality is so much improved that it almost looks like a different phone.
The artifacts you see in the pictures in this review are almost gone. The color balance is also better, more natural. It's unfortunate that Sony didn't optimize its firmware from the beginning... I guess that the final rating of this phone would have been much better with the latest firmware.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (8 months ago)

I installed two updates while writing this review, none of which made a noticeable difference to image quality (I did some before/after testing). If I get another one I will have a look and post new samples/adapt the review if appropriate,

0 upvotes
Misterio
By Misterio (8 months ago)

Can you write firmware number?
It should be 14.1.G.2.257.

0 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (8 months ago)

It is funny how the reviewer emphasizes soft corners on the Z1, yet on the 1020 review the soft corners seems to be pushed to the side as if not so important.

1 upvote
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (8 months ago)

... and the Z1 behaves considerably better than the 1020 in this respect. Of course it's still definitely worse than the Samsung S4 / iPhone 5/5s / 808.

Nevertheless, the pixel-level noise is horrible, even if it's "only" grain and not color noise. The 1020 is vastly better in that respect.

0 upvotes
Chazn
By Chazn (8 months ago)

True.
Would like an explanation for this.

0 upvotes
Michael Ma
By Michael Ma (8 months ago)

Eh. Camera sized sensor, smartphone quality. Pass. I've been spoiled by Lumia raw samples.

4 upvotes
zodiacfml
By zodiacfml (8 months ago)

sigh....can't wait try more RAW files.

0 upvotes
arhmatic
By arhmatic (8 months ago)

I have a dumb question -
Why are sensor sizes always measured in inches?

Most if the world is in metric. Including manufacturers. But even for people using inches in everyday life is hard to calculate fractions and compare sizes... I am a US architect, using inches daily, ALWAYS preferring to see millimeters...

15 upvotes
slncezgsi
By slncezgsi (8 months ago)

see here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensor_sizes
and the reason for strange sizing here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_camera_tube

2 upvotes
arhmatic
By arhmatic (8 months ago)

@slncezgsi
Good link. Just in the article above...

1/2.3" vs 1/3" ok... I can think a little, I can figure it out which one is bigger... OR...
6.17mm vs 4.8mm BOOM! Got it!

3 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (8 months ago)

arhmatic:

But even 6.17mm vs 4.8mm are inaccurate diagonal measurements. So it's best to find the real sensor dimensions and do the right triangle calculations to get the actual diagonal--metric, inch, fraction of a mile.

As for fractions, assuming the numerator is constant, the bigger the number in the denominator the smaller number. 1/4 is smaller than 1/3.

0 upvotes
JWest
By JWest (8 months ago)

I must be misunderstanding you. How is finding the width and height then doing a calculation somehow more accurate than being told the answer to the calculation in the first place?

0 upvotes
MoreorLess
By MoreorLess (8 months ago)

The main reason is I'd say that its an effective way to disguise just how tiny the sensors in compacts/phones are.

0 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (8 months ago)

When it comes to image quality, it "gets all the important stuff right" right except the image quality, which is "a little disappointing".

2 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (8 months ago)

If you read the text again you'll notice that I am talking about "pixel-level image quality". I personally take an awful many pictures with smartphones these days and post many of them on the web. Based on my absolutely unscientific observations that is what many smartphone photographers do. In this scenario pixel level IQ is much less important than color, contrast and exposure, all of which the Z1 is very good at.

2 upvotes
Calistoga_Guy
By Calistoga_Guy (8 months ago)

who cares if the sensor is compact camera sized. Sony ruined it by making it 20MP. I don't need to read a review or even see a photo to know that even shots at base ISO with perfect light will be just OK at best. Under less than ideal conditions, the image quality will be horrid. 5MP would have been great. When do writers start to call out this problem instead of just glossing over it?

6 upvotes
vv50
By vv50 (8 months ago)

why do you think that your default image will be 20mp just because the sensor is 20mp? it's 8mp, you can even make it 5mp if you wanted by editing it yourself . fyi, fujifilm has been doing this for years, the f10 only makes 6mp files but the sensor is 12mp native.

0 upvotes
photofan1986
By photofan1986 (8 months ago)

@vv50
Oh boy, you mixed everything up.
The native sensor resolution is 20 megapixels. In some Fuji cameras (NOT the F10!), the sensor has 12 megapixels and the camera outputs a 6 megapixels image, but it in not simple downsampling. Actually, two pixels are "stitched" to make one "big" pixel to gather more light. This method worked the most effectively in the EXR pattern, because it avoided fasle colour (moiré) to appear.

1 upvote
thx1138
By thx1138 (8 months ago)

Sony's smartphone camera efforts are simply embarrassing for a specialist camera company. Woefully over processed look that has plagued them forever. I'm really not sure what their engineers are thinking when they sign off on this crap and say "job well done". Not a single aspect of the camera performance is up to scratch and it takes a down sample to 8MP, which is what it's native pixel count should have been in the first place, to achieve any semblance of IQ, as long as you stick to low ISO and don't look at the corners.

DxO should have a good long look at themselves if this rubbish rates 77/100 - 47/100 would be generous.

0 upvotes
vv50
By vv50 (8 months ago)

photofan, i didn't mix anything up, you pretty much said the same thing i already did. and the superccd sensor of the f10 has 12mp of native data to work with before creating the 6mp jpg, read how honeycomb sensors work. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_CCD

0 upvotes
photofan1986
By photofan1986 (8 months ago)

Why, oh why 20 megapixels on this tiny sensor?!
IQ could have been decent with something like 8 megapixels or even 5 would be enough for most use.

Comment edited 45 seconds after posting
3 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (8 months ago)

free lossless zoom... better cropping.

0 upvotes
photofan1986
By photofan1986 (8 months ago)

Yeah, but there's not much to lose, it's already crappy unzoomed.

0 upvotes
Jogger
By Jogger (8 months ago)

What video codecs does the Z1 support? Does it do AVCHD 2.0??

0 upvotes
Misterio
By Misterio (8 months ago)

This test is after firmware patch or or earlier?

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (8 months ago)

I installed two firmware updates while working on this review and both times did some before/after testing, without detecting any difference in terms of IQ. Most of the samples are from the new firmware but in the gallery there are some older ones, too. I doubt you'll see a difference.

1 upvote
neo_nights
By neo_nights (8 months ago)

Honest question: I know that smartphones don't give a lot of control, thus making the test scenes a little hard to even them out. But there are some apps out there that at least let you choose ISO. It's really unfair to compare a "high ISO" of 400 against a high ISO of 1600 (Galaxy 4).

So why don't you use an app and at least use same ISO for all the smartphones?

4 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (8 months ago)

iPhone does not allow you to select ISO. Also, My guess is about 98% percent of all smartphone users shoot their images in Auto mode which is why our methodology makes sense. I can see your point but at the end of the day you get lots of samples at all ISOs with all our reviews, so you check for yourself.

1 upvote
arhmatic
By arhmatic (8 months ago)

If my iPhone got just a little smarter, I'd do 98% of my photos in anything but Auto...
At least exposure compensation. It's that basic... Do it Apple!

1 upvote
danny006
By danny006 (8 months ago)

Images don't look good. Samsung and iPhone pictures are much better. How can Sony make such a bad camera, I don't understand.

1 upvote
neo_nights
By neo_nights (8 months ago)

Perhaps 98% os users use auto-mode because there's basically no other way around?
(myself included. At most I use EV compensation, because that's all we have -besides selecting ISO)

While I see your point, I still think it's weird to make a "high ISO" test and let the camera choose an ISO400 which is hardly "high". Although that sample at ISO2500 already showed what the Z1 (can't) do...

Anyway, thanks for taking your time to reply :)

BTW, are you going to make an article (besides that news post Lauren already made) or anything of the kind with the Nokia devices that support RAW shooting? Comparison shots and such.

0 upvotes
supeyugin1
By supeyugin1 (8 months ago)

iPhone users don't need exposure compensation, because Apple thinks they are dumb.

4 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (8 months ago)

"iPhone users don't need exposure compensation, because Apple thinks they are dumb."

It's simple: you will want to avoid Apple if you want to shoot. Get a, camera-wise, decent Android or WP phone if you need a decent camera. (The S4 Zoom delivers excellent IQ so it shouldn't be dismissed.) Apple just don't want anyone to have any manual modes (except for en/disabling high ISO and extending the shutter speed up to 0.5/1s on the 5s / other models, respectively. Nothing else is supported, not even on the API level for third-party apps.)

As far as the pano mode is concerned (the, in addition to the excellent shot-to-shot times, biggest advantage of the iPhone): While I personally haven't had the chance to directly compare the two, the high-end Samsungs' panorama mode may be even better than that of the 5s. And it's available in all their high-end models, even tablets(!) - unlike in Apple's iPads.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Total comments: 57
About us
Sitemap
Connect